If you wear glasses to correct nearsightedness, you're far from alone. Nearsightedness rose 42% in the United States between 1999 and 2004. In other areas of the world, nearsightedness statistics are truly shocking. One study puts the number of East Asian children with nearsightedness at 90%. Surprisingly, it's not different genes that account for more nearsightedness among Asian children. Instead, it's due to the environments in which they are raised. Vision is highly vulnerable to the influence of various lifestyle factors, and a new study suggests that insufficient time outside could be a culprit in the epidemic of nearsightedness.
Reducing Nearsightedness With Outdoor Time
Previous research suggests that children who spend long hours indoors—especially studying or staring at television and smartphone screens—are more likely to struggle with vision issues. To test the connection between outdoor time and vision quality, researchers looked at data from about 2,000 Chinese schoolchildren.
The instructed one group of children to spend more time outdoors over the course of three years. At the end of the study period, they found that children who spent more time outside had fewer vision problems compared to their indoor peers. Specifically, 30.5% of children who spent more time outside developed nearsightedness, compared to 38.5% of children who did not.
Researchers aren't sure how much time outside is adequate since they didn't give participants a specific quantity of time to spend outside. They also don't know how outdoor time might mediate the risk of nearsightedness. It could be that increased light intensity outside increased dopamine production, inhibiting the growth of cells associated with nearsightedness. They will have to do more research to see if the correlation holds up in other populations, and to explore what's behind this phenomenon.
How to Improve Eye Health
It might be years before we fully understand how or why outdoor time seems to reduce nearsightedness. But we already know the following steps can improve eye health:
- Get annual eye exams, and if you develop pain, burning, or blurred vision, contact an eye doctor immediately.
- Every 20 minutes, look away from your computer screen for 20 seconds or longer to reduce eye strain.
- Protect your eyes from the sun's damaging rays by wearing UV protectant sunglasses.
- Eat a healthy diet rich in dark, leafy greens and foods containing beta-carotene, like carrots.
- Take a vitamin supplement to ensure you get any nutrients you miss during the day.